Special needs dentistry is an extension of traditional dentistry. It requires that dentists go through supplementary training in order to successfully provide dental care to adults and children that suffer from mental, physical, emotional, developmental, cognitive, or sensory restrictions. It is mandatory for special needs dentists to take three extra years of training after they receive their dental degree, where they can then become board certified to practice special needs dentistry. Virtually all dentists will accommodate for special needs, but to truly work with and meet the needs of these individuals, going to a special needs certified dentist may be the better choice.
Special needs patients come from all walks of life and backgrounds including, but not limited to, those with Alzheimer’s or Down’s syndrome, deaf or blind, or with some form of spinal cord injury. Sometimes these individuals need to go to a certified special needs dentist because they have unique needs that practitioners not certified in special needs dentistry are unable to adequately meet. For instance, a child with special needs may require extra time, so the dentist should ensure that the appointment is made during the least busy time of the day to guarantee they get quality care. Special needs patients are also given general anesthesia at times to help keep them calm, allowing for the dentist to adequately care for them. It is also common for special needs dentists to have specialized equipment specifically for special needs patients.
Patients who are paraplegic, or who are paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair will need to find alternatives to normal oral care because they physically cannot brush their teeth. Individuals with cancer or other illnesses will need specified treatment to avoid and prevent further complications with their disease and management, or patients with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy will need extra care regarding the effect the anesthesia might have on them.
Oral Health Therapists are amazing people that are qualified as both a dental therapist and dental hygienist that can provide diagnosis, as well as management, treatment, assessments, and preventative services and recommendations to both adults and children that require special needs However, they can only practice under a licensed dentist and therefore cannot practice on their own. The oral health therapist can also provide personal care and self-maintenance duties for patients that are physically or mentally unable to. Oral health therapists are professionally trained to work with people with special needs and usually have an empathetic and patient personality to ensure the patients’ needs are met and fully understood. Regardless of the disability, special needs dentist and oral health therapists need to be ready to accommodate their diverse patient’s needs, or be prepared to have a failing practice and face a possible lawsuit.
The biggest problem in terms of receiving quality dental care among the special needs community tends to be the financial barriers that lie between them. Many individuals that require special needs care are usually at an economic disadvantage or do not have private health insurance, forcing them to rely on Medicare or Medicaid, which is not tailored to accommodate special needs patients.